Red tape for green projects

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Sunday, November 22, 2009
Complications with the state's Construction Contractors Board (CCB) could cool the warm glow from incentives aimed at improving home energy use.

According to Adam Pushkas, president of Portland-based Coho Construction Services, a trade ally of the Energy Trust, firms such as his that offer home energy "performance audits" may technically be in violation of the law. He says he was informed by the CCB that if his company continues to offer such services it could face up to $5,000 in fines.

The problem: His technician, who is certified by the Building Performance Institute, is not considered a home inspector by the CCB. "We got nabbed because we have a radio ad," Pushkas says. Although as of mid-November he only had one audit scheduled, he says the calls keep coming. "A lot of people call saying they want to take advantage of incentives," he says. "I don't want to tell people I'm operating illegally."

CCB enforcement manager Richard Blank says the problem is not limited to contractors like Coho operating without an official home inspector license, which he says the law clearly requires because the audits involve inspecting so many aspects of a home's structure.

More importantly, he says it violates a long-established statute that prohibits home inspectors (unlike auto mechanics) from doing the repairs they recommend. "The warning was issued because there may be a conflict" with the law, he says.

Although Blank says Coho is the only green weatherization company to receive such a warning so far, Pushkas maintains his company is one of at least 400 contractors who operate in a similar manner.

He says that even though his 10-year-old company has only performed home audits for a little under two years, he estimates it makes up about 15% of his total business.

Meanwhile the public's demand for weatherization projects statewide continues to grow. Amber Cole, spokeswoman for the Energy Trust, says weatherization projects receiving incentives from her organization increased by about 37% between 2007 and 2008, and by more than 73% during the first three quarters of 2009 compared to 2008. Cole says that the licensing issue will definitely have a negative impact on companies that do weatherization projects.

Blank wouldn't comment on how his agency's regulation, which is just now beginning to be enforced, could potentially hinder the growth of home energy conservation projects, but he says the board has begun to speak with the various parties to arrive at a final decision. "We're not looking to punish anyone," he says, explaining that the CCB appreciates the importance of environmental and energy efficiency programs.

"Environmental and energy conservation are very high on the governor and the legislature's radar," he says. "And this guides their policy." He says the rules can be changed, but says that such a solution probably won't happen overnight.

WILLIAM E. CRAWFORD
 

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